Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Alaska Fishing Fleet Getting Older, Richer

By Bob Tkacz

May 2011

The Alaskan fishing fleet, including resident and outside harvesters, is getting older and earning more, state lawmakers were told in a data-heavy presentation. That good news (financially at least) could be somewhat deflated because costs of permits and gear that are also rising are making it difficult for young men or women to enter fisheries.

Tracked from 1975 to 2008, the mean age of the fleet went from 43 years old to 41 through most of the 1980s then began a steady increase to almost 50 by 2008, according to analyses presented by Glenn Haight, the fishery development manager in the state Div. of Economic Development, at a March 29 session of the legislature’s “Fish Caucus.”

“It’s not going down. The fleet’s getting older,” Haight said.

Among 21 salmon fisheries selected by Haight, the Bristol Bay setnet fishery had the youngest participants with an average age in 2008 of 43.4. The oldest were Upper Yukon gillnetters at 59.9 years, well senior of the Southeast power trollers who were second oldest at an average of 53.9 years.

Lower Yukon gillnetters were third youngest at 45.3 years; Bristol Bay driftnetters were eighth youngest at 47.9. Cook Inlet drifters ranked 11th at an average age of 48.5 with Cook Inlet seiners 12th at 49.1 years.
Southeast drifters and Kodiak seiners tied for 14th youngest at 50.4 years.

Among all fisheries Haight said participants in the Southeast brown king crab fishery are the youngest on average at 41.5 years.

The number of active permit holders fell from 11,441 in 2000 to 9,763, according to Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission data. Geography had no impact on the 15 percent shrinkage, which included a 14 percent reduction to 7,024 among Alaska residents and 16 percent, to 2,739, among all others.

Alaska resident harvesters also enjoyed a larger percentage increase in earnings over the same period at 90 percent compared to 66 for nonresidents, but Outsiders’ actual pay was consistently and significantly higher, said Glenn Haight, the fishery development manager in the state Div. of Economic Development.

Average gross earnings for Alaska residents went from less than $50,000 in 2000 to just below $100,000 in 2010. Harvesters from all other states started the decade with an average gross of roughly $185,000, peaked in 2008 around $310,000 and tallied around $250,000 in 2010.

Looking specifically at halibut and black cod quota shares, Haight said the portion held by Alaska residents was unchanged over the long term, but moved substantially within the state. Alaskans held 52 percent of total IFQs in 1995 and in 2011. Among individual communities South Central and Interior towns enjoyed huge percentage increases while ownership declined by 33 percent among Gulf of Alaska coastal communities and 46 percent among those in Southeast.

Delta Junction, 80 miles southeast of Fairbanks and closer to the Yukon Territories border than any saltwater port, saw an 80,341 percent increase in local IFQ ownership from 1,987 “Qs” in 1995 to 1.5 million in 2011.

The more traditional fishing town of Dillingham followed with a 31,667 percent increase from 14,809 to 4.7 million over the same period.

Eagle River, a far north Anchorage suburb, increased its shares by 131 percent to 2.5 million over the period. Palmer, just slightly farther north, and Cordova and the City of Kenai were the only other communities to see triple-digit increases of 116, 109 and 100 percent, respectively.

Still farther north from Anchorage, Big Lake was the biggest percentage quota loser at 100 percent or with 779,061 shares. Mostly likely a single harvester left the town.

Most of the other biggest losers were in Southeast including Port Alexander at 91 percent, losing just over one million shares; Angoon at 85 percent or 1.5 million shares and Pelican, down 69 percent or 3.98 million shares.

Beside its value as a chronological curiosity, the data illustrates the impact the loss of even a few permits can have on the economy of small Alaskan villages.

Based on what he described as a typically diversified fishing operation Haight projected total revenues of $125,041 annually including $59,684 in the Southeast driftnet fishery, $34,107 from a smaller, 225 pot, Dungeness crab fishery and $31,250 in earnings from 5,000 pounds of halibut quota.

That income was stacked against a total cost of entry of $393,100, with estimated annual debt service of $30,000. Haight counted $150,000 for a vessel and gear, $68,800 for the driftnet and $39,300 for the crab permits and $135,000 for the quota shares.

Bob Tkacz can be reached at

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